Some call it McGolrick Park, while many born and bred locals call it Winthrop Park. So what are you supposed to call it and why does the park have two names anyway? To answer these questions we need to explore the history of the pretty little nine-acre park.
The park was once swampy land on the Kingsland farm. You might have heard of Kingsland Avenue in South Greenpoint, but not know who Ambrose Kingsland was. Well, he was a rich Manhattan sperm whale oil merchant who served as mayor of New York in 1851. What saves him from the so what dustbin of irrelevant figures in history? Well in his two-year term as mayor he started the process of creating Central Park, but back to Greenpoint.
Kingsland had his farmland surveyed and he made a killing selling off parcels of it, but the land where the park sits was a swamp and draining it was too costly so it sat there undeveloped until the year 1889 when State Assemblyman Winthrop Jones spearheaded obtaining a $132,825 appropriation for its purchase. Locals howled about the outrageous price of the swampy land and they groused further because the City of Brooklyn (we were still an independent city then) paid even more for improvements to the park. The site was graded and fitted with a drainage system, and a new lawn was planted. Winthrop Jones died in 1891 and naming the park after the Calyer Street resident seemed like a fitting memorial.
By the end of the decade, Winthrop Park featured paved walks, new trees, shrubs, a shelter building, iron fences, and a novelty in recreation–boxes filled with “sea sand” in which children could play. On Saturdays during the summer, locals gathered to hear band concerts. A playground was also built in 1897, but the park still lacked something to make it truly grand.
In 1910, that lack of grandeur ended. One of the greatest architects in the history of Brooklyn, Frank Hemle, designed the now-landmarked elegant pavilion that dominates the park. The curved building of brick and limestone featured an elegant wood colonnade, but this was one of only many gems Hemle created. The most recognizable to locals is the Greenpoint Bank for Savings on the corner of Calyer and Manhattan Avenue that imitates the Roman Pantheon. The pantheon is not only landmarked but is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
After World War I famous local Peter McGuinness led a drive to build a war memorial for the 113 locals who died in the Great War. The World War I memorial (1923) near the shelter pavilion was designed by Carl Augustus Heber. The statue depicts a female allegorical figure, holding aloft a modified laurel, a symbol of victory, and in her right hand supporting a large palm frond, a symbol of peace. The granite pedestal is inscribed with the names of battles where locals fought in France.
The other statue in the park is also a result of the efforts of McGuinness, the Monitor and the Merrimac sculpture, which honors the U.S.S Monitor built on Quay Street during the Civil War. The curious sculpture by Antonio de Filippo was commissioned in the 1930s and features somewhat strangely almost nude men struggling with nautical ropes.
In 1941, the park was renamed for the pastor of St. Cecelia’s parish, Fr. Edward McGolrick who was pastor of the church for 50 years and made herculean efforts to feed hungry locals during the great depression. Evidently, the name change was not popular amongst all and many still called the area Winthrop Park.
The park became dangerous in the 1970s and suffered a lot of damage, but the park was eventually restored. In 1987, Parks Department workers removed graffiti, weeds, and debris; repaired and painted benches, play equipment, and fences; and repaved asphalt walks, beautifying the park.
A similar renovation occurred to the playground in 1997. Today the park hosts a farmer’s market, concerts, and other events. Its stately London Plane trees provide shade to families escaping into the park. Whatever you call it, the park is a local gem and a green oasis all Greenpointers treasure.